The name ‘deathcore’ instinctively sets my teeth on edge because it doesn’t seem to have any damned meaning. Is it a tag invented by trendy journalists desperate to get a handle on any band that steps outside their perceived notion of genre boundaries? Is it a fashion to be avoided? Is it a generic tag which encompasses god-knows-how-many-bands, all of which sound different (in a similar vein to grunge)? Whatever – such ‘I-know-more-then-you’ terminology can get fucked right now and we can get on with the business of contemplating Whitechapel’s latest, self-titled, mind-blowingly heavy, opus.
Hailing from Knoxville, Tennessee, Whitechapel are, apparently, influenced by everyone in extreme metal from Cannibal Corpse to Meshuggah and their diversity of influences clearly shows on this ambitious release. The band’s fourth album since their formation in 2006, this self-titled effort certainly bristles with the requisite anger and tension, but there’s more at work here and just as you think you’ve comfortably got a grip on where Whitechapel are heading musically, they pull a curveball out that sends your preconceptions spinning off into the ether. ‘Make it bleed’, with its melodic piano-led intro, is a fine case in point. Unutterably heavy it certainly takes much form the death metal genre, but there’s more at work here and some two minutes in the track takes an Opeth direction with light and shade dynamics and harmonised solos replacing the fire and brimstone approach that typifies the opening barrage of hateful riffs and barked vocals. It’s still heavier than a bag of spanners, of course, but there’s an intelligence at work that keeps the songs endlessly innovative and challenging for the listener. ‘Hate creation’ is a more straight forward attack on the senses – a whirling mix of guttural vocals and searing riffs that gets the adrenalin flowing and the senses sparking. ‘(Cult)uralist’ fizzes and sparks with nervous energy, the hyperactive percussion of Ben Harclerode detonating like high-explosive rounds whilst the riffs offer little in the way of let up, although the fluid solo that Ben Savage unleashes does offer some temporary respite from the churning malevolence that surrounds it. ‘I dementia’ is a slow-building number that opens with electronic flourishes before degenerating into a mid-tempo, spite-fuelled trudge that spits rage and venom in the face of its detractors with a forceful fury that unnerves as much as it excites whilst yet another blistering solo keeps things from sinking into the swamp of despair.
‘Section 8’ maintains the album’s brutal flow before a short drum-roll announces the arrival of the seething ‘faces’, a track of simmering death metal that neatly progresses to the album highlight that is ‘dead silence’ – a track that mixes wailing guitars, crushing riffs and Phil Bozeman’s rhythmic vocals to hypnotic effect whilst the solo recalls nothing so much as Slayer’s atonal assault on the senses. Working in an unnerving horror-movie style intro, ‘the night remains’ is masterly in its brutal brevity, albeit with an underlying sense of crucial melody, and then ‘devoid’ brings the piano back for a moment of unexpected calm that holds off the inevitable storm for a full minute before the guitars come crashing back in with crushing weight, all of which only acts as a segue for the closing beast that is ‘possibilities of an impossible existence’ which is closer in style and rhythm to Meshuggah than anything else the band attempt here.
However you might choose to label Whitechapel, what is clear is that the band only take what they need form their influences, cheerfully pilfering a Slayer-esque solo here or Unearth-style breakdown there, but never at the expense of their own identity. In Phil Bozeman they have a front-man of some authority; whilst their biggest asset is surely six-stringer Ben Savage whose lead parts give the songs a sense of personality that their peers can lack with one chugging monstrosity sounding much like another. On this self-titled monstrosity, Whitechapel cleverly balance heaviness with atmosphere, brutality with moments of eerie calm and the result is an album of memorable songs that are destined to equally live on in your head and devastate the moshpit – a decent achievement by anyone’s standards.